Another competitive 5-day U16 National Championship series concluded last weekend in Breckenridge, Colorado, challenging top-ranked teenage racers through a variety of disciplines.
The week-long event started on Sunday, March 31, with the slalom race, where Ryder Sarchett of Sun Valley Ski Education Foundation and Emma Resnick of Ski and Snowboard Club Vail (SSCV) took top honors for the men and women, respectively. Sarchett was also the gold medalist in both slalom and giant slalom at last year’s championships in Mission Ridge, Washington.
The giant slalom race on the second day concluded with Justin Bigatel of Park City Ski and Snowboard and Kjersti Moritz of SSCV on top of the podium. Bigatel finished more than two seconds over the rest of the field in what was described by U.S. Ski Snowboard Development Director Chip Knight as a “dominative fashion.”
“The performances were quite good at the top of the field,” Knight continued. “It shows we have a good program for the u16s, a lot of the judgement comes from the next couple of years.”
The SkillsQuest event, where athletes are evaluated on nine different technical skills during a day of guided skiing outside of the race course, took place during the middle of the week on Tuesday. Darlene Nolting, the Rocky/Central Regional Director, says SkillsQuest allows athletes not only to explore more of the mountain but also to acquaint themselves with athletes from other regions. Nolting adds that both coaches and kids have fun during the evaluation and that it has helped raise the level of skiing across the board.
“I love SkillsQuest,” said Nolting. “I think it has really helped raise the level of skiing in the Rocky/Central region, to focus on fundamentals is really great. The kids are evaluated on nine different skills, they go to station to station, on three different runs, and they get to ski. We mix the groups up with the regions, that’s another great thing we do here at U16 nationals, they get to know each other from the other regions. They think it’s really fun.”
“It’s a nice little break to focus on skills,” Knight added.
One of the greatest challenges of the week was faced on Wednesday, when the super-G race was reset after the first three female racers did not finish.
“It required a lot of patience and mental toughness,” Knight explained. This toughness was further witnessed after the first three skiers raced for the second time and all finished in the top ten. Knight said that their performances were “tremendous” and “took a lot of courage.”
Breckenridge’s altitude, just shy of 13,000 feet, also challenged some of the Eastern athletes, who train closer to sea level. Overall, how those athletes managed fatigue throughout the week was a hurdle for athletes, Knight said. Nolting also voiced that being adaptable was one of the week’s themes.
Despite these obstacles, some athletes still had standout weeks, said Nolting. Resnick was also the top finisher in the women’s super-G by close to a half-second, with her teammate Moritz in second. For the men, Jordan Simon of Steamboat Springs took first place also by a half-second over the rest of the field. Such margins show that there is a solid program in place for U16 racing, according to Knight. Nolting also added that it was Simon’s first time winning at a national level. The competition level of the U16 age group is getting elevated as a result of bringing athletes of this caliber together through events like the National Championships and other projects throughout the winter, said Knight.
The final race of the week was the team dual event, where the Rocky/Central Region took the Region’s Cup. Nolting says the Rocky/Central athletes and coaches “worked really hard,” and that the win is a season’s culmination of hard work and process-based goals.
“The Rocky/Central athletes and coaches, they worked really hard, they took care of each other,” Nolting emphasized. “We had many podiums, some athletes had some standout weeks, it was really fun to watch.”